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Yankee Panky #39: Decline Press

Before getting into this week’s blog topic, the Yankees made a wise signing this past week, inking Wilson Betemit to a one-year deal to be this year’s version of the perennially-ready utility infielder. He will have to do better than a .333 OPS and a .229 batting average to make the signing worthwhile.

Also, Robinson Cano and Chien-Ming Wang are both seeking raises that would increase their respective salaries to more than $4.5 million from $490,800 and $489,500, respectively. The requests are more than 40 percent higher than what the Yankees are offering. The arbitration situations of Cano and Wang remind me of the 2003-04 offseason, when Alfonso Soriano was arbitration-eligible and asked for a mid-seven-figure deal after a 30-30 season but a vanishing act in the playoffs. The Yankees were down on his attitude and lack of plate discipline, and did not want to agree to pay him upwards of $5 million, when they had just paid him $800,000. The rift and the lack of interest in going to arbitration led to Soriano’s inclusion in the A-Rod trade. Upon his arrival in Texas, Soriano received the raise he sought, getting a salary bump $5.4 million.

The Yankees are higher on Cano and Wang than they were on Soriano, and it can certainly be said that those two players have been more responsible for the Yankees’ success the last two years than Soriano was at any point during his time in NY. If the Yankees are serious about committing to the future and building from within, they’ll make an effort to compromise with both players.

Who else wants to hear, see and read more about that development than jokes about Roger Clemens’ butt?

(Raising hand)

* * * * *

This winter, more than any other in recent memory, has been all about the personal downfall and the media’s hastiness to find a soapbox and claim moral superiority. It’s not just relegated to baseball, but for the purposes of this blog and keeping the focus on the diamond, I’d like to focus on two former Yankees and the ways their foibles (one alleged and one actual) are being portrayed.

Since the Mitchell Report was released the press is staking out certain players, most notably Roger Clemens, ready to pounce on his character and discredit him when the opportunity arises. His former trainer, Brian McNamee, may be credible, based on a NY Daily News story printed in Sunday’s editions. Various reports have sought to discredit McNamee over the past month, also, but the focus has largely been on Clemens, McNamee and which of the two telling the truth. Clemens, Chuck Knoblauch and others will tell their versions – because let’s be honest, no one knows the whole truth – in front of Congress on Feb. 13, shortly before pitchers and catchers are set to report to camp. To date, as has been pointed out in this space, Clemens has been treated with a “guilty until proven innocent” line. His statements to date have not been tantamount to contrition.

Contrast that with the story of Jim Leyritz, who has gone from World Series hero to criminal. He faces a Jan. 30 arraignment on two counts of DUI-related vehicular manslaughter. If convicted, he could be jailed for 15 years or more.

The reporting that’s surfaced in Leyritz’s case is investigative journalism intended not only to unearth facts of the case, but to reveal details of the real Jim Leyritz. Records obtained by the Daily News a couple of weeks ago presented what’s become the archetypal fall of the professional athlete: financial problems due to bad advice, excessive partying, drinking and reveling in their status.

I met Leyritz several times in my years covering the team, and in one of those meetings, at Spring Training, we got to talking for a bit, just off the cuff. I asked how he was doing, if he was enjoying retirement and his work with MLB.com. He mentioned how he was living in Florida and volunteered that he was going through a vicious divorce and custody battle; all he wanted to do was take care of his children. While I thought it awkward that he’d volunteer that information to a stranger, I found it respectable that he was working so hard to be a role model for his kids. I don’t believe I misjudged Jim when I met him. He was a likeable, engaging guy. But I instantly flashed back to that meeting in the clubhouse in Tampa when he recounted the story of driving down to pick up his kids and thinking, “What changed?” Not for a second did I think that Leyritz being “Too Much Information Guy” could have been a signal for some deeper issues.

I recall this story and note the differences in coverage between Clemens and Leyritz because there are two different philosophies based on the player’s status both in the game, and to the fans. Clemens has been a love-him-or-hate-him type player for 25 years. Because he hasn’t done anything to endear himself, the media, for the most part, are jumping at the chance to convict him in the court of public opinion. There’s no need for the media to facilitate judgment or influence opinion in this case. Each fact as it is being introduced is mounting evidence against Leyritz, making his conviction almost certain.

There has been a lot of talk in the New York area, as well as some buzz on RealGM.com, about the Mets’ interest in authoring a trade for Johan Santana. When the best you can say is that you’ve severed ties with Lastings Milledge, signed Jose Valentin and avoided arbitration with Aaron Heilman, you need to do something. Until something is done, I’m not ruling out the Yankees.

Until next week …

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver